Any trip to the Caribbean will lift spirits and soothe your soul; the reggae beats, sunny climes and aromas of jerk chicken wafting from the grill are enough to bring a ray of sunshine to most people’s lives. Holidays are precious, but we can’t expect them to cure all life’s ups and downs. That’s why I was fascinated to hear of Elite Island Resort’s latest addition to their programme of events specifically designed to improve your wellbeing: the Caribbean Colour Me Calm Club – a bespoke colouring book and service available to guests featuring illustrations from Elite’s resorts in Antigua including Galley Bay Resort and Spa and St James’ Club Resort and Villas, created by illustrator Adam Stower with quotes from Existentialist Psychotherapist, Dr. Nicole Gehl.
Elite island Resorts already have a menu of mindfulness activities in place at their resorts, including mobile phone-free beaches, trekking and the floatfit®CARIBBEAN aquabase®class, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) which I also attended during my trip to Antigua.
So after my class, I joined Existential Psychotherapist Dr. Gehl at the Galley Bay Resort and Spa to ask her how mindfulness techniques can reduce stress both pre and post-holiday.
“Many people wait until they are on holiday to get into a spirit of relaxation,” says Dr. Gehl, gazing out at the calm ocean, “but you can start your mindfulness practice now. Mindfulness is the appreciation of what comes to you in the moment.”
In case you’re wondering, Existential Psychotherapy places emphasis on the human condition as a whole. It uses a positive approach that applauds our capacities and aspirations while simultaneously acknowledging our limitations. While traditional 'cognitive therapy' looks for practical solutions for people's problems, existential psychotherapy takes a more philosophical approach to the challenges we face. Dr. Gehl explains:
“We get caught up in everyday struggles and forget what it means to live. What better practice for skilful living could there be than meditating, focusing on the breath, in each moment we take.”
This is where the new Colour Me Calm book comes into its own, providing a simple activity that invokes a meditative process. It’s been a few years since I did any colouring in, but it takes seconds to get back into the habit. Suddenly, all I could think of was the image in the colouring book. Dr Gehl suggested I take my time and not rush into the exercise.
“Mindfulness is a skill and when practiced regularly can become a habit; separating us from a constant stream of internal dialogues that interfere with the immediate experience,” she says.
A waiter brings me a chilled drink. The ocean sighs before me. I experience feelings of tranquillity and realise how rare such moments are, and how little time and space we give to ourselves. The reward is one of quiet contentment, of negative thoughts transformed into positive ones. Admittedly, I recently completed a floatfit®CARIBBEAN aquabase®class and I’m experiencing the serenity one usually gets after a workout. But colouring in is strangely addictive and my hand constantly strays to the pencils.
“Challenges in life are to be examined with curiosity, rather than avoided” says Dr. Gehl. “The emphasis is on living creatively. I help my clients come to terms with life as a process as opposed to a fixed outcome goal.”
I begin wondering why there must always be an outcome. Without that ‘end goal’ would we value existence or is existence dependant on our achievements? The idea behind the Colour Me Calm book is to involve guests at Elite Island Resorts in a creative process that is non-taxing and removes outcomes. You’re not trying to create a masterpiece. You’re colouring simply because it’s a nice thing to do. I struggle to remember the last time I gave attention to such a carefree task. As a result, my breathing naturally becomes more regulated and levels of agitation reduce.
“The best suited client for existential psychotherapy,” Dr Gehl tells me, “is one who is not looking for another’s opinion on their troubles, or relief from acute symptoms, but one who is searching for a better way of living.”
We are all searching for a better way of living, but understandably and crucially, sometimes we forget that we are. We plan a holiday in order to experience the good life, pinning all our hopes on a slender two-week window of opportunity. Yet, the positive mind frame does not have to happen the moment I arrive at my resort – it can happen at my desk at work, or while I’m planning my holiday at home or on the treadmill at the gym - it doesn’t matter, so long as it’s right here, right now.
As Dr Gehl watches me colouring in, flushed by the island charms of Antigua and the illustration before me, her soothing advice is to keep ‘this island quality within’, reserved for those moments when the white sands of my holiday have faded into memory. As she speaks my attention is continually drawn to the book: I’m sure that palm tree could do with a little more colour. Just a little bit more….
Dr. Nicole Gehl - Quotes:
*Kelly Ranson is the Press Officer for Hayes and Jarvis, and travelled to Elite Island Resort’s Galley Bay as part of their well-being launch. She has travelled extensively in search of wellbeing and mindfulness and certainly found it in Antigua.
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